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Innovation is often perceived as something to be left to smart, technologically savvy entrepreneurs—like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk—inventing revolutionary new products or becoming the Uber of their industry. In reality, innovation is simply a mindset. More importantly, it is a mindset that can be taught to anyone willing to try.
Innovation is better defined as making things better today than they were yesterday. Making small incremental changes day by day that add up to bigger changes over time. As a leader, applying this way of thinking to your sphere of influence and the items in your control makes innovation accessible.
However, innovation is not an individual, herculean effort where one person is the hero. To be successful in leading innovation, your focus must be on establishing a culture of innovation at your organization. At Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and Reseda Group, we do this by connecting employees from different companies and across departments. It is through building this web of collaboration where innovation AND engagement begin to thrive.
Many of our innovation efforts start out with a pilot program at Michigan State University Federal's innovation center, The Lab at MSUFCU, and are then referred to Reseda Group for investment when they are ready to scale.
These pilot engagements with The Lab provide employees, who are selected to join an eight-person innovation team, an opportunity to learn about innovation frameworks like design thinking, lean startup, and agile. Innovator groups are assembled from across the organization with a focus on creating diverse teams with a variety of experiences and backgrounds to encourage new ideas and ways of thinking about a problem.
Teams meet once a week for 20 weeks and work directly with startups and other SMEs from the credit union to position their product for a trial with a subset of members they help to recruit. They measure the success of the pilot and make a recommendation to “green light” the product for a full-on deployment or capture “golden nuggets” of learning from the experience that are documented as lessons learned.
In a post-lab experience surveys of employees:
We did not set out with the intention to drive employee engagement with The Lab, but in establishing an innovative ecosystem between the credit union, The Lab, and Reseda Group, we have discovered how critical providing opportunities to innovate is in terms of engagement and the overall employee experience.
Yes, innovation is necessary to grow and to provide the new products and services our members want, but just as important is the role innovation plays in the employee experience when they are involved in this process.
To drive innovation and engagement at your credit union, you don’t have to be the next Elon Musk. You just need to have the right mindset and provide the opportunities.
BEN MAXIM is chief technology officer at Reseda Group and vice president of digital strategy and innovation at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union in East Lansing.